But I especially love him in a slightly more obscure film, Frank Borzage’s History Is Made At Night. Mystery, melodrama, romantic comedy, this one’s got it all—even a lovely number where Jean Arthur kicks off her evening slippers while dancing with Boyer to I Get Ideas. (I’m right there with you, Jean.) Colin Clive plays a deeply crazed shipping magnate whose creepy scheme to frame his wife drives her straight into Boyer’s arms—and understandably, he’s curious as to why she married such a man. But rather than ask her directly and risk scaring her off, he playfully interrogates her by painting a little face on his hand and calling it Coco, and then cooing his questions at her in a high-pitched puppet voice.
Okay I’ll pause a moment while you read that last bit again. Suffice to say that Charles Boyer is one of about five people on the planet who could pull that off without the woman smiling awkwardly while slowly reaching for her purse and backing up toward the door. Or maybe just saying to hell with the purse and running. Honest to God, the man could do anything.
But Boyer’s best love story was the one he lived offscreen. He fell in love with his wife, Pat Paterson, at first sight. And despite his dashing reputation, he was a happy homebody who was more content curling up with a book than cuddling with a co-star. Their only, much-cherished child, Michael, lost his life when he was just 21, playing Russian roulette after breaking with his girlfriend. Heartbroken and devastated, Boyer somehow forged ahead with filming on How to Steal a Million, with a resolve that left his co-stars in awe. But when he lost Pat after 44 years together, it was one blow too many. He took his own life just two days later.
Below are a couple of pictures from my own Charles Boyer collection.
Here he is looking terribly kind and dapper as he arrives at an airport sometime in the 1950s. See the woman in the back, staring as if mesmerized? That would have been me, except I wouldn’t be in the frame because I would be unconscious on the floor.
And here he is (toupee-less as usual) treating Ingrid Bergman to lunch at the Brown Derby, in between bouts of terrorizing her and trying to drive her insane. What a guy!
Finally, if you want to see the ultimate example of a movie star entirely comfortable with himself, poking fun at his Hollywood image, here’s his classic appearance on I Love Lucy: www.hulu.com/watch/438083 Yes, Mrs. Ricardo, I would’ve stalked him too…